Cape Town craft gin distillery tasting guide
With World Gin Day falling this Saturday, what better way to enjoy the weekend and celebrate than to try out a gin tasting at a local gin distillery. I do enjoy a good gin, but it is a little off topic from my usual food and health focus. For this reason I’ve called in my younger brother James to tell you all about Cape Town’s local distillery tastings.
Over to James….
Cape Town often gets teased for being a little slower than our inland neighbours, but the Mother City is leaps ahead when it comes to making “mother’s ruin”. There are three craft distilleries in my neighbourhood alone and it turns out that nearly two thirds of South Africa’s craft gin is made in the Western Cape.
According to a City Press article in March, South Africa has 135 craft gins made by 52 companies. Considering they were mostly unheard of until about three years ago, chances are that number’s already grown.
I’m sure new places will open soon, but for now I present to you my comprehensive list of all Cape Town craft gin distilleries that offer tastings to the public:
Cape Town Gin & Spirits Company
The design of Cape Town Gin’s bottles and labels pay tribute to the “Roaring ‘20s”, which they call gin’s golden age. Established in 2015 and already one of the older craft gin distilleries in the city, I feel their tribute is especially fitting with gin making a big comeback as we near our own ‘20s. They have three different gins in their range: the Classic Dry Gin, Pink Lady Gin and the Rooibos Red Gin.
Available for tastings at the Cape Town Gin Hidden Door. Open Monday to Friday from 11am to 6pm. Group tastings arranged by prior appointment.
Shop 1, Heritage Square, Corner of Shortmarket and Bree Streets
Deep South Distillery
The new guys on the Peninsula block, this distillery opened up in Kommetjie in late 2017. While they’ve claimed to be the newest in town, the rapid rate at which distilleries are opening up means they’re less certain about that now. What they are certain about though is being Cape Town’s southernmost distillery.
For those unfamiliar with the term “Deep South”, this doesn’t refer to Alabama and the US, but rather the southern part of the Cape Peninsula. It is famed in Cape Town for being even more laid back and a little bit quirky, giving a perfect setting to enjoy your gin at a more relaxed pace.
They produce a juniper-forward Cape dry gin and a floral scented ruby gin that looks refreshing. Also refreshing is their slogan, “Making the world a better place, one sip at a time.”
Open Wednesday to Saturday from 11am to 3.30pm. Bookings are essential during the week and recommended on Saturdays, especially for larger groups.
53 Heron Park, Wildevoelvlei Rd, Kommetjie
021 783 0129
Located in Durbanville, this father-and-son-run distillery recently moved to larger premises, where they reopened for tastings last month. The duo claim a shared passion for engineering and fine liquor, which they merged together to start a distillery.
Their love for engineering can be seen by the vast depth of distilling information on their website. Talk of atmospheric pressure theories, azeotropic points and Antoine equations went far over my head, but I can say their huge copper still, affectionately named Eve, looks flipping impressive! They clearly keep Eve busy too, also producing a vodka and a rum. Betraying their no-nonsense and precise engineering approach, they’ve named these Gin, Vodka and Rum.
They’re open to the public for tastings Monday to Friday from 10am to 5pm. Tastings on Saturdays and Sundays are by appointment only.
3 Atlas Gardens Business Park, Durbanville
076 785 9470
Hope on Hopkins
Many Cape Town craft gin brands seem to lead back to this distillery in Salt River. Having set up shop early in 2015, Hope on Hopkins was the first craft gin distillery to open in Cape Town. Using barley as their base, their three stills Mildred, Maude and Momo also distil many other Cape Town craft gin brands. So much so in fact that I personally blame them for whittling my promisingly long list down to less than 10. Well done to them!
Between all this, they produce their own London Dry Gin, Salt River Gin and Mediterranean Gin. They also do their own small batch vodka and an agave spirit named Esperenza, which they cheekily mention they’re “not allowed to call tequila”.
Open for sales Monday to Friday and open for tastings on Saturdays only, 12pm to 5pm. (They’re unfortunately not open on “Gin day” on June 5 this year.)
7 Hopkins Street, Salt River
021 447 1950
Pienaar & Son
Using maize as their base, this father and son pair produce three gins and a vodka from their microdistillery in the heart of the City Bowl. Their pairing of a “stubborn son” and the veteran father with 40 years experience in distilling gives a nice interplay between new and old that they play off of to full effect.
Their gins are the English styled Empire, the eastern influenced Orient and an intriguing “Drought Gin”.
Curious about the drought gin, I asked Andre Pienaar (the son) to tell me more. What I never realised is that most stills produce spirits at a very high 80% alcohol content, which is then watered down to get to the 43.5% we’re familiar with. The drought gin just skips this step to produce a gin twice and strong in alcohol and flavour. And yes, this is entirely legal! South Africa has no legal limit to how strong a gin can be, so long as it is not lower than 43.5%.
Open for tastings and distillery tours on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm.
1 Roodebloem Terrace
021 461 4993
Woodstock Gin Company
Down the road from me and next door to the Biscuit Mill, it’s not surprising that this is where I had my first ever gin tasting thanks to a friend visiting from Joburg. Established in 2015, owner Simon von Witt’s ongoing experiments have resulted in some novel and tasty creations.
Their flagship Inception Gin is available with either a beer or a wine base, while their High Tea Gin sports an alluring red shade thanks to its rooibos and honeybush infusion. They also produce their own Woodstock Tonic using indigenous herbs, allowing one to enjoy a truly local G&T.
Open for tastings from 9am to 6pm on weekdays and 9am to 4pm on Saturdays. Bookings are essential during the week and recommended on Saturdays.
399 Albert Road, Woodstock
021 821 8208
The following three distilleries didn’t qualify for this listing, but I thought they deserved a quick honourable mention.
New Harbour Distillery
This is the third distillery in my neighbourhood. Unfortunately they don’t offer public tastings, but they do run a “make your own bottle of gin” workshop and a more in-depth course on the process of distilling spirits. The courses seem very popular and you’ll need to book well ahead to secure a spot. They produce a rooibos infused gin, a spekboom gin and their private collection protea gin.
64 Victoria Rd, Woodstock
This Stilbaai distillery is quite a drive from Cape Town, but as the oldest South African craft gin maker it deserves a mention. They are considered the original pioneers of the craft gin industry in this country, even though they’ve been around little more than 6 years. They offer tastings and distillery tours as well as gin-making classes through their gin school. Open for tastings Monday to Saturday from 10am to 3pm and Sundays from 11am to 2pm.
Laurenskirk Estate, Old Riversdale Road, Stilbaai
028 754 2442
Being based in Wellington disqualified Jorgenson’s, but I felt they deserve an honorary. For one, Wellington isn’t all that far from Cape Town. More importantly this veteran craft gin distillery also grow their own juniper berries and are the only ones to do so in South Africa. They are available during the week for tastings but they do ask that you book first. As they put it, it gives them a chance “to dust the cat hair off the table”!
Versailles Farm, Regent Street, Wellington
021 864 1777
And that concludes the list of craft gin distillery tasting venues in Cape Town. I wish you all a fun-filled gin day and hope you get to enjoy some local flavours.
If, or rather when, anyone sees there’s a missing distillery, please let us know in the comments.